12 Strategies for Designing Healthy Sleep Habits

Chronic sleep deprivation has devastating consequences in our lives. Here are just a few of the consequences of chronic lack of sleep:

  • Poor school and job performance
  • Difficulty taking information in and processing it accurately, listening or reading
  • Makes learning new tasks and concepts much harder
  • Greatly increased chance of making mistakes and even endangering lives for by driving while sleep deprived
  • Diminishes capacity to make decisions
  • Negative attitudes and pessimism
  • Impaired immune function
  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Increases:
    • difficulty organizing
    • difficulty letting go of things leading to excess clutter which then makes it even harder to sleep well
    • ADD-like symptoms such as distractibility and impulsivity
    • difficulty dealing with stress
    • emotional sensitivity which exacerbates depression and anxiety
    • challenges with managing emotions, temper blowups, crying jags, etc.
    • chronic fatigue and fybromyalgia-like symptoms such as muscle pain
    • overall sensitivity to pain 
    • relying on drugs to help you sleep 
    • risk-taking behavior
    • risk of addiction

Sleep is now being recognized as the most effective “medicine” you can take to enhance your entire life.  It may be the most essential ingredient to emotional, mental and physical functioning. Contrary to what many people believe, sleep is the the most productive use of time possible. The idea that giving up sleep will lead to greater achievement may be the most tragic myth of our era.

The truth may be that our brains are MOST productive and performing their most valuable functions while we are sleeping. During sleep, our conscious mind goes dormant so that the rest of our brain can focus intensely on processing what we experienced that day. Experts now report that sleep is actually the time when our brain is doing the work of reviewing, sorting, decluttering and storing our experiences in a way that makes it more useful to us. In other words, sleep is our prime time for organizing and learning so that we can perform even better the next day with a fresh clear conscious mind.  (Adapted from Source: Brain Rules)

When you think of sleep this way, as the most valuable performance and productivity enhancing tool you could ever have, why would you EVER sacrifice it for anything less than a truly life threatening emergency?

Getting plenty of good quality sleep is having your own professional life and wellness coach, therapist, productivity consultant, and organizer living with you 24/7 to help you declutter, organize more effectively and enhance your creativity, productivity, problem solving ability and overall health.  And the best part is that sleep is free.

So what’s the catch?

 You must figure out  how to make your sleep the number one priority in your life. You must learn how to design your entire life to protect and defend and support your ability to sleep well at night. 

You and only you can establish the boundaries, set the limits, and say no to the stuff that keeps you from being able to sleep.

 What better investment could you make than to invest whatever it takes to optimize your ability to sleep, enhance your sleeping conditions and cultivate habits that make it easier to sleep at night?  

From this perspective, you can see how using drugs to help you sleep may actually be making the problem worse — because drugs disguise the real roots of the issues that are impairing your ability to make sleep the highest priority in your life.  Using drugs to sleep camouflages the difficulties you may be having saying NO and making the tough decisions needed to design your life to enhance the quality of your sleep.

When we have trouble sleeping, it’s very tempting to turn to drugs for instant relief. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to take melatonin or other aids occasionally, but the price of chronic sleep aid use can be staggering. What we know now about how sleep aids affect your brain and impair the quality of sleep makes it even easier to see why chronic use of sleep aids can lead to depression, and even to developing other disorders such as an eating disorder. Here’s an eye-popping example of the harmful impact sleep aids can have.

“One woman gained 100 pounds before finally realizing that Ambien was at fault…Sleep-eating can occur spontaneously or in association with other drugs, so Ambien may not be the only culprit. But the researchers think that there’s something about Ambien that leads to sleep-eating in some people. Presumably only a very small percentage of users are susceptible, but with millions of Americans taking Ambien every year, the sleep-eaters could number in the thousands.”

Source: New York Times Editorial, March 14, 2006


The ripple effects a single seemingly small behavior can have on the rest of your life is stunning. It’s like that with organizing, too. Once you start designing and organizing your time, space and stuff more strategically, the ripple effects can lead to remarkable improvements in your overall energy and in all of the 8 Dances of Life

The very act of choosing to take the time to design your home and things to figure out how to get them to serve your most important needs (such as sleep) is a powerful act of self-advocacy.

What many people don’t realize is what an important role your bedroom plays in the quality of your sleep and in your ability to establish healthy sleep habits. How you design your bedroom to serve you in sleeping well makes a tremendous difference.

Unfortunately, many people put the design of their bedroom on the bottom of their priority list.  Why?  “Because no one sees it” is what I often hear.  But that’s not true.  YOU see it.  and YOU are just as important as everyone else.

Too many people regard their bedroom as a place to put everything they don’t want other people to see, or as a multi-functional activity space. They watch TV, exercise, work and more in the bedroom. The ripple effect of this is often insomnia, stress and related health problems. Getting clear about the value of sleep and making it your highest priority will help you make the tough design decisions needed to rethink your bedroom, make it a sacred space and organize it to support your sleep well.

Here are 12 ways you can design for healthier sleep habits and get the rest and renewal you need to improve your performance, health, energy, learning, decision-making ability and productivity.

  1. Move activities that don’t support sleep and romance out of your bedroom. Design your bedroom for activities that help you sleep better.  Activities like meditating, journaling or anything that helps you release stress, relax and fall asleep easily.If you aren’t sleeping well, take a good look around your bedroom.
    Do you have a computer or work desk in there?
    Exercise equipment? TV? Telephone?If you have them all in there, you will be more vulnerable to sleeping issues.  Find new homes for them. Taking the telephone out of our bedroom made a big difference for me. Even though it rarely rang, just knowing “could” affects sleep quality. Sleep is too important to let wrong numbers or telemarketers wake you up.
  2. Clear the clutter. If your bedroom is full of clutter, your mind will be cluttered too. If your mind is cluttered, it’s very difficult to relax and sleep.  Clutter is stagnant draining energy. Sleep is meant to refuel your energy.  Clutter interferes with the quality of sleep by sucking your energy as your body is trying to create it. Clearing clutter is a great foundation for releasing stuck energy and freeing your brain to do it’s work and wake up refreshed after getting a good night’s sleep.If you have trouble deciding where to start, Here are some options. Start with the floor and the surfaces in your room. Later, go deeper into closets and drawers. Clear out things you no longer use. Throw out or repair anything that is broken. Finish things that are undone or get rid of them. Put your laundry in the hamper.
  3. Give everything in your bedroom a designated home. One of the common sources of challenging clutter in the bedroom is clothing you’ve worn, but is not dirty enough to put in the hamper yet. Designate a space for your “gently worn” clothing. This can be hooks placed on a door or inside your closet; a special drawer; a wardrobe shelf; a coat rack, or even a chair — just keep them neat and don’t use the floor or your bed.
    To reduce clutter in the bedroom, things you use often need to be easy to find, easy to get out, and easy to put away. If you have drawers, but never put things in them, figure out why and fix them, or perhaps get rid of them. Use shelves with containers, or a wardrobe with doors instead. Make sure you have a table or nightstand with a drawer or a container on it near your bedside to help reduce visual clutter.  A place to to keep items like earplugs, lotions, tissues, lint brushes, scissors, etc. goes a long way to reducing clutter. If you have a lot of things on your dresser, consider getting a large container to hold it all or use one of your top drawers to hold all but 3-7 of your most frequently used items. Designate a drawer or shelf for purses. Be creative. You don’t have to do things the way everyone else does. The only rule is that things need a home so they don’t become visual clutter that causes your brain to activate and work overtime.
  4. Dust regularly.  Especially if you have pets. Excess dust and pet hair in your room makes it harder for you to breathe. Dust can cause allergy symptoms and seriously disturb your sleep. Design Idea:  Keep dusting wipes and supplies in a utility closet or area near your bedroom so that you can easily dust frequently. Remember, don’t only do the surfaces! Many people let dust collect under beds, furniture, on curtains, etc. for months and sometimes even years. Do in-depth dusting 2-4 times a year to enhance the quality of your sleep.
  5. Position your bed advantageously. In Feng Shui, placement of objects is essential to encouraging positive energy flow. I don’t why it works exactly, but it really does. The energy you feel and the quality of your sleep changes when you change the position of your bed. Best orientation for the bed includes: Make sure you can see the door from your bed.  Don’t place your bed directly in front of the door if you can help it. The best position in the room allows you to feel more secure and enhances sleep overall. to learn more about how clutter and furniture placements affects the overall energy of your bedroom check out these books:  (Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui and Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life)
  6. Change the sheets.Your sheets can be a source of your insomnia in part because they collect dust, but also because they absorb energy. Sounds a little weird I know, but it’s true. Think about it. You spend 6-8 hours a night in them. And, don’t you usually sleep best when you have nice clean fresh sheets? If you don’t believe me, try it anyway! What could it hurt? Make sure you change your sheets at least once a week, but for some people who are very sensitive to energy and dust, every 3 to 5 days works even better. If you have trouble sleeping, color could be part of the problem. Sheets in soft, restful colors like white, tan, brown, soft green and blue are usually more relaxing.
  7. Do a comfort and ergonomics check. Are your pillows the right ones for you? Is your bed soft enough to not cut off your circulation during the night? Are the colors in your room soothing? Does your alarm clock wake you up gently or do you hate the sound of it? I found it much easier to wake up once I started using a “dawn-simulating” alarm clock.
  8. Let light and air in during the day. Refresh the energy in your bedroom daily. Open blinds and let natural light in. If you can, air the bedroom out for at least 15 minutes a day. Fresh air often enhances sleep. Spend time in nature during the day. Don’t you always find you sleep great after a day outdoors? If you can, leave a window at least partially open at night – especially if you sleep with your bedroom door closed.
  9. Design a nighttime ritual for unwinding and encouraging sleepiness.Start  1-2 hours before want to get sleepy. Don’t perform cognitive or physically strenuous activities just before bed. For example, don’t pay your bills, don’t watch violent or suspense-filled, or complex, action filled shows or movies.  Don’t read violent or suspenseful stories.  Avoid watching the news or any other things that tend to activate your emotions or cause you stress just before bed.Many people watch the news in bed, or take work-related reading into bed with them, and then wonder why they can’t sleep. Instead, choose activities that won’t get your adrenaline going and that tend to sedate you.You might start your evening ritual by preparing anything you can to reduce any concerns you might have about being ready for the next day. For example, make tomorrow’s To Do list, pick out clothes, gather things you need to take with you, etc.  Then get ready for bed, change your clothes, take a warm shower, brush your teeth, hair, etc. Then relax.Dim lights and avoid “screens” if you can.  Electronic devices tend to activate your brain with light and make it harder to sleep.  Being in a low light environment for even just 30 minutes makes it much easier to become sleepy.

    Create your own list of relaxing bedtime activities such as take a leisurely walk, stretch, do gentle yoga, meditate, do easy light household chores like watering plants, picking up, read easy-on-the-mind books, watch light TV that you don’t care if you start to get sleepy while watching, listen to relaxing music, etc.

    Designate your unwinding space to be as near to your bedroom as possible. When you feel sleepy, make is super easy for yourself to just roll into bed.  If you try to sleep before you feel a little sleepy, you are more likely to toss and turn. Designing your path to sleeping is FAR more powerful than trying to get yourself to go to bed at a specific time.

  10. Watch what you eat in the 2 – 3 hours before bed. What you eat, and when you eat it can significantly affect your ability to fall sleep .Are you snacking on chocolate, soda, or other foods that may have caffeine in them? Are you eating sugary foods or foods with lots of chemicals in them before bed?  If you snack before bed, choose whole, unprocessed and starchy foods as much possible. Rice, sweet potatoes and homemade low salt popcorn are far better choices for a night time snack than candy, chocolate, ice cream or other snacks. Plan ahead to avoid snacking on junk foods before bed.
  11. Use earplugs. If you have a partner that snores, or if you snore, you might be waking yourself up during the night. Using earplugs changed my life and saved my marriage.  We both used to wake ourselves and each other up. With earplugs, we both sleep much more restfully. It takes a little getting used to, but the rewards are well worth it. I can even sleep better in hotels now. The earplugs themselves have become associated with sleep.  Just putting them in makes me start to feel even sleepier.  I recommend the soft foam type of earplugs. If they are too big, you can trim them to fit your ear better.
  12. Keep a pen and paper by your bedside. When you can’t sleep, often it’s because your mind is racing. Something about becoming sleepy seems to activate our creative mind and background problem solving ability.  Perhaps the brain has already begun it’s sorting and organizing processes I mentioned at the beginning of this article.  If you are like me, you may start getting ideas to solve challenges and problems at work, the minute you lie down and relax. Or perhaps you have concerns about how will handle or be prepared for a challenging event the next day.  Whatever is rolling around in your brain and won’t stop, it’s extremely helpful to have a pen a paper handy to capture those thoughts and remind yourself that if you sleep on it, all will be even clearer and you will have even better ideas in the morning.  Learning to trust that my mind’s background processing generates far better solutions that my conscious mind does is one of the most powerful habits I have cultivated in my journey to enhancing the quality of my sleep and significantly reducing insomnia.


I hope theses ideas will inspire and encourage you to take the time to design, agilize, and organize your daily habits and your bedroom to serve you in facilitating yourself to get a good night’s sleep.

Sweet Dreams!